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More Dogs on Main Street

Park City hosts a lot of conventions. This week we had firemen in town, complete with a parade of fire trucks on Main Street. I’d like to have seen it, but was dealing with the track-hoe parade of irrigation-system installers at home and didn’t make it into town. I’m not completely sure what goes on at a convention of firemen but have to assume that it involves large quantities of various liquids.

Next week, we’ve got a little higher-profile event. The International Mountain Bicycling Association is holding its World Summit in Park City. This is an event that happens every other year. The last event was in Whistler, the hotbed of mountain-bike action, and focused on jump parks and more of a downhill approach to mountain biking. This year it’s in Park City.

Whether you really appreciate it or not, Park City is a model of community-supported trails. We have over 300 miles of single-track trail in western Summit County.

Trails don’t just happen. Years ago, Mountain Trails Foundation was founded by people concerned that development was paving over the limited informal trail system that existed. Mountain biking was relatively new, and there were actually still horses in Park City (before it got too expensive to own a couple of acres around here). We all know that summers here are even better than the ski season, but summer without the ability to get into the mountains wouldn’t be the same. So with a grant from the county and a lot of good intentions, Mountain Trails Foundation stuck Troy Duffin at every city and county planning-commission meeting. His job was simple. With each project, he was supposed to stand up and ask, "What about trails?"

It took a while, but before long, trails became as essential to each new patch of suburban bliss as roads and utilities. Somewhere in that process, the real-estate people discovered that trail access was a benefit. It’s not quite the same as ski-in/ski-out, but darn close. The glitzy brochures for even the snootiest gated communities started showing trails as part of the "lifestyle" being sold with the lot. Over time, developers started calling the Trails Foundation to figure out how they could connect their project to the trail system. They wanted to be "beachfront" on the trails.

It’s a remarkable accomplishment. Our network of trails is almost entirely on private land, with the exception of the city’s property in Round Valley. This isn’t Forest Service land. The trails run through private developments and the ski areas. They wrap around golf courses so exclusive that mere mortals will never touch their greens. But the public rides their mountain bikes, hikes, snowshoes, and sometimes still rides their horses around their perimeters.

IMBA is an international advocate for mountain biking, but also for trails in general. Their best-known program is the Trail Care Crew, sponsored by Subaru. Two couples travel around the country full time, putting on trail-building schools and coordinating with local groups on trail projects. They’ve been through Park City a few times, and worked in Salt Lake, Vernal, St. George, and Moab through the years. They have a way of energizing local trail advocates and convincing the stodgiest of land managers that mountain bikes are not the beginning of the apocalypse.

IMBA’s other work is in Washington, trying to maintain bike-friendly policies and regulations in the federal bureaucracy and with state land managers. Twenty years ago, mountain bikes were viewed as a passing fad, and something not to be tolerated on the public lands. A generation later, mountain bikes have gained acceptance. Even the National Park Service is looking at ways to increase mountain-bike options in the National Park system. IMBA has become the industry gold standard for trail design, whether it is a cross-country trail system like ours, or the house-sized jumps of Whistler.

The event this week will bring in more than 300 people who are not quite what you might be picturing for a mountain-bike event. These aren’t the ultra-lean racers we see at the NORBA races in Deer Valley. Their time here will involve some riding, but most of it will be spent in the less than inspiring fluorescent lighting of hotel conference rooms. They’ll be talking more about liability management, erosion control, and user conflicts than gearing, suspension design, or nutrition before a race. The conference will be a collection of trail advocates, land managers, ski-area managers, tourism officials, and policy wonks looking at the sport of mountain biking and how to keep it healthy. Some will be trying to figure out how their towns can be the next Moab, Fruita, or Park City. The balance between doughnuts and granola will be about equal. It’s a mix of passionate riders and people who may never have ridden a mountain bike, but are responsible for land that includes bike trails.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to ride the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands with the park official who prepared the mountain biking plan there. He was transferred to another park before he got a chance to see it implemented. He wasn’t a mountain biker, and the four-day trip on the White Rim was his initiation to the sport. He finished feeling pretty good about his decision on biking, and also about the accomplishment of having ridden the loop.

Good things usually come out of the IMBA summits. Good ideas are exchanged, good connections are made, experiences shared, and usually some problems or concerns can be resolved. What’s exciting to me is the chance to show off the Park City trails experience. Carol Potter from Mountain Trails has helped coordinate the fun stuff for the conference the parties, the rides, the movies and so on. The IMBA people in Boulder have focused on the policy side of the event.

But no matter who is on the agenda, the real star will be Park City and its community-supported trail system. What we have here is absolutely unique. It will be fun to show it off.

Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for nearly 20 years.


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